From the Beer Writer: Some see beer as an artistic medium, while others view it as a platform for experimentation. Not surprisingly, the scientific minds at Miramar’s White Labs, the foremost manufacturer of yeast for beverage fermentation in the world, fall into the latter category. Last year, their on-site brewing team created something previously (and since) unheard of: a beer fermented using a whopping 96 different yeast strains. What could have come out tasting like a cacophony of competing characteristics tasted very nice fresh, with Belgian yeast varieties coming to the forefront with their bold, fruity, botanical attributes. Yesterday, White Labs released a version of the beer given even more complexity from extended aging in bourbon whiskey barrels. The result is Barrel-Aged Frankenstout, which features a downright lovely aroma reminiscent of dark chocolate truffles and rose petals. The chocolate carries through on the palate and is accompanied by vanilla and chicory, followed by an herbal feel in the finish. In the world of beer-based science projects, it doesn’t get much more exotic than this.
From the Scientist: “The team at White Labs was working on sequencing 96 of our yeast strains for a collaborative research project with Illumina, Synthetic Genomics and a team of scientists based in San Diego and Belgium. The goal was to understand the genetic diversity between strains (i.e., what makes WLP001 California Ale Yeast have such different flavor characteristics compared to WLP008 East Coast Ale Yeast), and some of these findings were later published via the scientific journal Cell in September 2016. Since these strains needed to be propped up in order to do a full sequencing run and fill 96 spots in a multi-well plate, we used the propped-up yeast to do a fun ‘experiment’ and look at what would happen if they were all used to ferment only one beer. Our team tried a few different prototypes before landing on the final recipe for Frankenstout, as they found that the malty backbone played really well with the complex and various flavors created by 96 different strains!”—Karen Fortmann, Senior Research Scientist, White Labs
From the Brewer: “Barrel-Aged Frankenstout rested for more than one year in second-use, bourbon oak barrels. During that time, the brewing team monitored the barrels on a regular basis until we finally landed on the perfect amount of oak and bourbon traits combined with Frankenstout. We found the flavors in Frankenstout really changed over time, and it also picked up a higher alcohol-by-volume (10.1%) from the time spent in barrels. Barrel-Aged Frankenstout carries vanilla, oak qualities and mild notes of bourbon, which pair well with the more subtle phenolics of the matured base beer.”—Joe Kurowski, Brewing Manager, White Labs
Last month I visited Cameron Pryor, one of the founders of California Wild Ales. We met at the under-development all-wild brewery’s Sorrento Valley facility where I took photos of the nearly completed tasting room. At the time, it was scheduled to open in early August. When I checked back with Pryor last week, he informed me that his team had since decided to hold off on opening a tasting room until they find a new location. The new plan is to stay focused on production and reduce public access to their space to bottle pick-ups.
This is another way in which this operation—perhaps the most against-the-grain of San Diego County’s breweries currently in planning—defies convention. Other unconventional factors include the fact none of its founders have experience in the brewing industry, all of their beers will utilize wild yeast and microorganisms. Throw in no tasting room and you have a full-on anomaly for the local suds scene.
But with these oddities come some positives. Without a reliance on hops, one of the most expensive ingredients in beer-making, they don’t need to focus on securing contracts and save money. Being in Sorrento Valley, the rent is lower than other higher-profile communities. And not having employees, something that can be maintained now that there won’t be a tasting room, cuts down on overhead considerably. All of this, Pryor says, will allow him and his partners to keep prices for their beers moderate. This is important to them, as they are not fans of the expensive, $30 and $40-plus bottles of wild ales in the market.
California Wild Ales’ facility currently houses a growing stock of wine barrels as well as plastic totes filled with fruit (pineapple and guava when I visited) that gets punched down a la grapes in a winery setting. According to Pryor, this step increases fruit-to-beer infusion. He has also taken lessons from tours of Old World lambic breweries in Europe, and utilizes gravity in his production methods whenever possible.
Pryor and company utilize two 4.5% alcohol-by-volume base beers—one brewed with caramel malt, the other with a touch of rye malt—as the foundation for all of their beers. Early offerings include a dark sour with black raspberries and blueberries called Black Sour, and Salty Loquats, a gose brewed with English sea salt and its tart namesake fruit but devoid of traditional coriander. Pryor, a former chef, is experimenting with a variety of exotic salts and says they change both flavor and mouthfeel of his finished products.
California Wild Ales operates a members-only club called The Funky Bunch that provides priority access to beers in exchange for an annual fee. The company will also keg some of their beers with plans to sell them to local accounts before the end of the month.
Each June, San Marcos’ Rip Current Brewing Company uses Rip Current Awareness Week, a seven-day period designated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as an opportunity to raise public knowledge about its wares through special events and offers at its tasting rooms. It’s a clever marketing effort; enough so that another San Marcos-headquartered brewing company isn’t waiting for a governmental agency to institute an educational span in its honor. Enter, Mason Awareness Week, taking place August 28 to September 1.
Mason Ale Works, the in-house brewing operation of the 3LB Restaurant Group built within its Urge Gastropub brewpubs in Oceanside and San Marcos, is teaming with high-profile accounts throughout San Diego over a five-day span to increase imbibers’ consciousness of the brand. According to 3LB co-owner Grant Tondro, Mason Ale Works has been able to gain a good following in North County, but isn’t as relevant south of Miramar. So, they’re bringing the brand south via special events and promotions.
The week will kick off with a Monday steak night at University Heights’ Small Bar that, instead of featuring a keep-the-glass aspect, will allow patrons to keep a Mason-branded steak knife. Tuesday a beer-can koozie will be the keeper du jour at High Dive in Bay Park. Wednesday the Mason crew will return to Urge Common House in San Marcos for a “mini-Lebowski fest” marking the release of a “vegan White Russian beer” brewed in collaboration with Modern Times Beer. Thursday will see a keep-the-glass and cask-night combo at Kearny Mesa’s O’Brien’s Pub, followed by special bottle pours and custom t-shirts at Toronado in North Park.
Like many new local brewery owners, Tondro says opening a brewing company in the current, crowded marketplace is challenging. He says the number of slices of the pie are growing faster than the pie at this point, making it all the more important to differentiate one’s brand and beers, and fueling the decision to reach out in order to introduce themselves to San Diego beer drinkers.
Many were those who felt for Tom Garcia when he announced he was closing his business, Offbeat Brewing Company, last March. The Escondido shuttered following one last hurrah on St. Patrick’s Day after five years of presenting mostly English-inspired ales along with art from local creators. A former employee at nearby Stone Brewing before going out on his own, Garcia has been absent from the brewing scene since closing Offbeat, but he is making his return. Today, Iron Fist Brewing announced they have hired Garcia to serve as brewing production manager at its Vista headquarters.
“I’m very excited to have been given the opportunity to work with Iron Fist,” said Garcia in a press release. “We have great beer with a high potential for growth and innovation. I’m looking forward to helping push the boundaries of deliciousness with [the company].”
This addition comes nine months after Iron Fist brought on a new investor with ties to San Diego Padres ownership. This infusion of capital has allowed the company to look forward rather than tread water. It has also provided added visibility in the marketplace, most notably at Petco Park, where Iron Fist’s beers are readily available via multiple venues and dedicated, branded carts.